Saturday, December 26, 2009

"I Do"s Coming to DC, LGBT Protections in East Point, GA

At the end of 2009, there's been more good news from the South.

Washington DC’s City Council has voted for marriage equality in the nation’s capital. Mayor Adrian Fenty has signed the bill, which was co-sponsored by 10 of the city council’s 13 members.

The law has to be reviewed by Congress, which has the final say on DC's laws. Lawmakers appear unlikely to intervene though, so gay couples could be legally marrying in Washington by March.

Meanwhile, the town of East Point, GA, has made smaller headlines by joining a handful of other cities in that state to adopt protections for its gay and transgender employees. The local law, which passed unanimously, prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The city has had domestic partner benefits since 2005, and the city charter also includes a Bill of Rights section that says the city will not adopt any laws that intentionally discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Atlanta, Decatur and Doraville are other Georgia cities that protect LGBT employees. The cities of Chamblee and Clarkston prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation but not gender identity.

These are the incremental local changes that pave the path towards equality and fairness. This is why local activism and simple visibility is so important, whether its in your town, your workplace, or your neighborhood.

People often dismiss the South as being intolerant and backwards, but the reality is that it's like anywhere else, with pockets of prejudice but also pockets of progress. We just need to help make sure the right pockets grow bigger.

Monday, December 14, 2009

"Invictus," Describing the Unconquerable Nelson Mandela and the Uneatable Game of Rugby

Over the weekend, I went with some rugby buddies to see the movie "Invictus," which details a little-known story of peace advocate and apartheid-ender Nelson Mandela and the sport of rugby. (This does relate to LGBT equality, so bear with me.)

In the movie, we see how newly-elected South African President Nelson Mandela (played by narratoriffic Morgan Freeman) uses his influence to prevent the country's national rugby team, the Springboks, from being dissolved and reformed. Some people considered it a symbol of white oppression, but Mandela saw it instead as an opportunity for bridging racial chasms. He worked with the rugby team's captain, Francois Pienaar (played by a beefy Matt Damon) to turn the team from a symbol of racial division into one of unification and solidarity. That year the Springboks then went from having a sub-par record to winning the rugby World Cup ... in overtime no less. It's the most cliched of sports tales, except for the fact that it's completely true.

There are two important things for people involved in the equality movement to take away from this movie.

First, it's that rugby is a great, inclusive game. It's a super sport for all people, with different types of positions within a team for all body types and levels of athleticism: tall, short, fast, strong, skinny, fat, whatever.

North Carolina has two officially gay rugby teams - i.e., they're predominately LGBT, though each has a straight member (not intentionally token, just coincidentally) - the Kodiaks, here in the Triangle, and the Royals, up in Charlotte. Both of them are members of IGRAB, the International Gay Rugby Association and Board.

Even outside of the officially-gay teams, though, rugby culture is generally very gay-friendly. For example, the Kodiaks always practice and play with Eno River Rage and the Eno Men's team. Rugby is incredibly butch and it's incredibly gay, in ways that overlap and in ways that are totally different. It's so intrinsically both that it's that it's transcendent. If you've always wanted to play sports but have been worried about homophobia, rugby is the way to go.

The second, and more important, aspect of the movie are the lessons that Nelson Mandela taught, that solidarity, education, and forgiveness are the greatest strengths in any movement for fairness and justice. After being unjustly imprisoned for 27 years, he eschewed revenge and partisanship and worked with the people who mistreated him.

Ultimately, we, the LGBT community, are all working together towards a common goal, despite individual differences and variations and opinions.

Broader than that, though, we're working for true equality of everyone, including the people working in opposition groups. The idea of eventually coming together with people that teach hatred and push second-class citizenship on us (and some who advocate violence and death) is a hard one to grasp, but as Mandela observes, "Not to forgive is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies." LGBT people are discriminated against when we're dehumanized, and we repeat that mistake when we dehumanize those who oppose equality.

Besides, the core of prejudice is ignorance, and we cannot dispel ignorance if we're not willing to talk with others and teach them. Mandela again: "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

None of this means we shouldn't work against homophobia, just that we should work against homophobia per se and not just the people who are homophobes. In the best of all possible worlds, we'll be changing their hearts and minds, and bringing them around to be pro-equality allies.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Equality in the News December 4th-December 11th

Here’s this week’s round up everyone. I’m sad to say that this will probably be my last entry because my time interning at Equality N.C. has come to an end. I’ve learned a lot in the semester that worked with everyone and hope to continue to do my part for the striving for equality.



Domestic Partnership Benefits in Mecklenburg Co.

In last week’s Equality in the News post, I reported that Mecklenburg county was in the process of deciding when and if a discussion of domestic partner benefits would take place in the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners meeting. I’m proud to report that on December 15th, domestic partner benefits will be discussed on the regular meeting agenda!


GLSEN’s “Think Before You Speak” Campaign

Recently, GLSEN launched an online campaign encouraging people to “Think before they speak,” when using offensive terms in reference to LGBTs or in reference or substitution for other words. The original campaign started in 2008 with celebrity endorsed T.V. commercials, but now has taken over the internet with participants in the campaign having access to downloadable ad banners, blog modules and slur counters for their own blogs and social networking sites (such as twitter and facebook).

Delayed Equal Marriage vote for NJ & Bruce Springsteen

Senate President Richard Codey has honored the request to delay Thursday’s scheduled vote on NJ’s bill to legalize equal marriage. Other senators believe the bill will not receive the 21 votes needed to pass.

Speaking of NJ, Bruce Springsteen is backing equal marriage for NJ! Springsteen recently posted a statement on his website urging support of the equal marriage bill (that has since been delayed from Thursday’s original date).

California School District Bans LGBT friendly Curriculum (Lesson 9)

The Alameda school district is in conflict over a 45-minute lesson taught once a year that emphasizes anti-bullying lessons in six specific forms, including bullying specific to LGBT students. Many parents in the community feel that elementary school is “too early,” for their students to learn about LGBT citizens. Other families feel as though the lesson should continue on counts that students as young as elementary school have been heard using offensive language and phrases towards LGBT.

The district, although torn, has decided to opt-out of lesson 9, supposedly to protect itself from further lawsuits.

California Chooses First Openly Gay Assembly Speaker

On Thursday, Assembly Democrats unanimously chose John Perez (the chairman of the Assembly Democratic Caucus) to be its next speaker. Perez will take over the position from Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (elected in February 2008). Congrats to John Perez!


Austrian Parliament gives OK to Civil Unions

On Thursday, Austria’s parliament passed legislation allowing civil unions for same-sex couples. The bill will become a law on January 1st, 2010 and give the couples access to a pensions and alimonies. Unlike straight couples, same-sex couples won’t be able to record their unions with the civil registry office, but with another authority instead.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Nondiscrimination That Dare Not Speak Its Name - Human Rights Day 2009

Tomorrow, 12/10, is the 2009 Human Rights Day, sponsored by the United Nations.

The theme for 2009 is nondiscrimination with the tagline "embrace diversity, end discrimination."

Here's a PDF fact sheet for the day.

According to the website, "The realization of all human rights - social, economic and cultural as well as civil and political rights – is hampered by discrimination. All too often, when faced with prejudice and discrimination, political leaders, governments and ordinary citizens are silent or complacent. Yet everyone of us can make a difference. You are encouraged to celebrate Human Rights Day by advocating non-discrimination, organizing activities, raising awareness and reaching out to your local communities on 10 December and beyond."

When they list examples of discrimination, they include:
Obviously LGBT people are notably missing. We are not, however, excluded, just kind of buried. If you go to the link of Stories on Discrimination, you can find tales of homophobia, as well as discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS.

While it's encouraging that our stories are included, it's shameful that the UN has failed clearly list sexual orientation and gender identity in the list.

(The UN has made some progress on this issue in other documents: here's a link to the Wikipedia page on the UN declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity. This was an issue at the end of last year when America was the only Western nation not to support this non-binding declaration. Fortunately, after a change in the Executive branch of government, America did sign on earlier this year. This declaration and discussion was a pretty significant breakthrough for the UN, being one of their first major advances on collectively recognizing LGBT people.)

All around the world, millions of people face a daily struggle against discrimination – both directly, through laws and policies, or indirectly, through societal attitudes and prejudice. When taken to the extreme, such discrimination has even resulted in policies of ethnic cleansing and genocide (like the proposed 'kill gays' law in Uganda, being indirectly supported by some legislators here in North Carolina).

However, there've also been many successes – from the toppling of the apartheid regime in South Africa to the extension of voting rights to women in many countries – which should encourage us that inequality and discrimination can be fought against and eradicated.

On Human Rights Day 2009 (Thursday, December 10), resolve to embrace diversity and work to end discrimination.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Take Action and Push Faltering ENDA!

As we approach the holiday season and the end of the year, the momentum behind the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is dropping.

29 states, including North Carolina, let you be fired because you're lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Thirty-eight states, including North Carolina, let you be fired for being transgender.

ENDA would help ensure that people's employment is based on the quality of their work, not their sexual orientation or gender identity.

You can take action now on this national issue. Go to:
(And if you'd be interested in doing some statewide phone-banking here in the ENC office during the day on Wed, 12/9, let us know: e-mail me at

On Friday, a coalition of national groups joined together to encourage action on this important issue. Equality NC and other state groups have since signed onto the statement as well. A copy of the press release is below.

There's a saying:

"The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago;
the second best time is right now."

The same is true of taking action for employment nondiscrimination.


December 4, 2009


In light of continuing delays in the House of Representatives, we must state clearly and unequivocally: Passing basic job protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people must happen now. At a time when our government is deeply focused on the critical issue of employment, it is inexcusable to delay action on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Each and every job lost to prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity needlessly compounds the unemployment challenges facing our nation. We call on Congress for the immediate passage of ENDA.

For decades now, we have called upon Congress to pass legislation to address the basic right of LGBT people to work free from discrimination at our jobs, and now Congress tells us we must wait another year. In 29 states, it remains legal to fire people based on sexual orientation and in 38 states, discrimination based on gender identity remains legal. In failing to take swift action to pass ENDA, our government allows unfettered bigotry to go unchecked, leading to the loss of jobs, fear in the workplace, economic instability, and personal hardship, while allowing employers to lose competent experienced workers. ENDA is urgently needed by our communities.

The majority of Americans consistently state their support for employment protections and voters have affirmed similar state and local measures. There is absolutely no reason for Congress to continue to delay this non-controversial bill or drop LGBT issues to the bottom of their agenda. We will not be denied basic rights any longer. Nothing is more important than protecting peoples’ jobs so ENDA must pass now. Further delays are absolutely unacceptable.

Matthew Coles & James Esseks, Co-Directors, American Civil Liberties Union LGBT Project
Terry Stone, Executive Director, CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers
Lisa Kove, Executive Director, DOD Federal Globe
Toni Broaddus, Executive Director, Equality Federation
Jennifer Chrisler, Executive Director, Family Equality Council
Lee Swislow, Executive Director, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders
Jarrett Tomás Barrios, President, Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation
Caleb Laieski, Director of Legislative Affairs, GLUAD
Joe Solmonese, President, Human Rights Campaign
Rachel T. Niven, Executive Director, Immigration Equality
Earl Fowlkes, President/CEO, International Federation of Black Prides, Inc.
Kevin Cathcart, Executive Director, Lambda Legal
Christian Berle, Director of the Log Cabin Republicans National Office
Sharon J. Lettman, Executive Director/CEO, National Black Justice Coalition
Kate Kendell, Executive Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights
Mara Keisling, Executive Director, National Center for Transgender Equality
Rebecca Fox, Executive Director, National Coalition for LGBT Health
Rea Carey, Executive Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Action Fund
Michael Mitchell, Executive Director, National Stonewall Democrats
Gregory Varnum, Executive Director, National Youth Advocacy Coalition
Selisse Berry, Founding Executive Director, Out & Equal Workplace Advocates
Jody Huckaby, Executive Director, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) National
Jo Kenny, Interim Director, Pride at Work AFL-CIO
Masen Davis, Executive Director, Transgender Law Center

Friday, December 4, 2009

Equality in the News November 20th-December 5th

Happy Friday! I hope everyone enjoyed quality time with friends, family & loved ones over the Thanksgiving holiday & that if you participated in Black Friday or Cyber Monday, that you were able to get your hands on a good deal!
Since we took the week off last week with Equality in the News, I’ll make sure to make this week’s entry a little “meatier,” than usual to cover events that occurred last week. -Jennifer


North Carolina Senate News…

On November 17th, the North Carolina Senate elected Martin Nesbitt Jr. (D-Buncombe) to replace former Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand. Ian Palmquist, executive director of ENC also feels that Nesbitt has been a “good ally,” and states, “We are definitely monitoring to see who gets appointed to the other key positions [held by Rand] like Rules chair, which have a big impact on which bills come to the floor---both positive and negative.” Read more about Sen. Martin Nesbitt Jr. and more thoughts from Ian.

Domestic Partner Benefits in Mecklenburg County

Since January of this year, and at the request of county commissioners, Mecklenburg County has been looking into whether it can offer domestic partner benefits to county employees. Diane Juffras of the UNC School Government stated that adding benefits to domestic partners would serve as a “recruiting and retention tool” for employees.

Currently six N.C. governments offer benefits and many private sector employers do as well. So far, it isn’t clear when the county’s human resources staff will bring the issue back to commissioners.

Boseman Not Running for Fourth Term

At the end of last month, State Senator Julia Boseman--the first openly gay person elected to the General Assembly--stated that she won’t run for a fourth term, due to family responsibilities. She will however, serve the remainder of her two-year term in 2010.

This year, Senator Boseman successfully pushed legislation for the School Violence Prevention Act. Ian Palmquist, the executive director of ENC states, “Senator Boseman taking the lead on this bill made all the difference in the state Senate.”

Boseman also cast the only vote against a General Assembly resolution honoring the late U.S>. Senator Jesse Helms because of his long opposition to civil-rights legislation and increased funding to fight AIDS.


New York, New Jersey

On Wednesday, December 2nd, New York senators voted 38-24 to reject marriage equality. Governor David Paterson and other legislative sponsors who have been pushing for the bill were surprised at the result. The result comes as a disappointment, but New York’s neighbor to the south will emerge as the next battleground state. On December 7th, a New Jersey Senate panel will vote on the measure and it may come before the full chamber as early as December 10th. A New Jersey Law already gives same-sex couples the ability to enter into civil unions that provide them with the same rights at the state level. December 7th is just around the corner, so let’s keep our ears and eyes towards New Jersey.

Georgia Elects Nation’s first Lesbian African American State Lawmaker

The past few weeks have been a monumental in the election of LGBT citizens into politics. On Tuesday, Georgia citizens elected Simone Bell to the House of Representatives, making her the NATION’s (not just the state’s) first openly-lesbian African-American state lawmaker (you, go girl!). Bell will become the second LGBT congressperson in Georgia’s legislature, following Representative Karla Drenner also of Atlanta. Bill received 56 percent of the vote to her opponent (Asha Jackson) who only received 44 percent.

D.C. Approval!

On Tuesday, the Washington D.C. Council voted 11-2 in favor of equal marriage! It was the first of two votes on the issue allowing equal marriage in D.C. Ten out of the thirteen council members supported the bill’s (which was sponsored by Councilman David Catania) introduction. The final vote is expected later this month and Mayor Adrian Fenty already stated that he will sign the bill. Equal marriage will start in D.C. as soon as the bill passes a period of Congressional review. Congress isn’t expected to alter the law.

In not-such-positive news, The Archdiocese of Washington has threatened to withdraw millions in funding for D.C. social services if equal marriage is legalized in D.C..

Newly Elected Politicians

This week Alex Wan (of Atlanta, G.A.) and Evan Low (of California) were elected to high ranking political posts. Alex Wan is the first openly gay man elected to District 6 in Atlanta City Council and now sits in a position that has been occupied by a gay person for the past 12 years, but never by an Asian American.

Evan Low (at 26) is the nation’s youngest openly gay and youngest Asian American mayor. In additional to his role as mayor, he also works full time as a senior district representative to Assemblyman Paul Fong (D-Sunnyvale), as well as pursuing a M.A. in Public Administration from San Jose State University. At this rate, Low will be presidential material in no time!


Debate on Equal Rights Bill in Ireland

Irish lawmakers have opened debate on a bill to grant “marriage-style” rights to LGBT couples. This open debate comes as a milestone in a country that has long been observant of Roman Catholic opposition to equal marriage and rights for the LGBT community. Did you know that Ireland considered being a LGBT citizen a criminal offense until 1993? (How outdated!) The bill would give couples the same rights as married heterosexual couples such as property ownership, inheritance, medical care and access to state benefits and also the right to go to court and seek financial support from higher-earning partners in the instance of a failed relationship. If passed, the bill will create, “civil marriage in all but name” for LGBT citizens.

Buenos Aires Couple's Wedding Thwarted

This past Tuesday (December 1st), Buenos Aires officials decided to block the wedding of a same-sex couple because of conflicting judicial rulings. The couple was attempting to unite in Latin America’s first same-sex marriage. After waiting for hours on a final decision, lawyers in the debate announced that the city would not allow the marriage until the Supreme Court had ruled on the case. This decision obviously upset the citizens of the city stating, “The city government has decided to ignore the city judge’s ruling.”

Alex Freyre and Jose Maria are hopeful that they will be able to marry soon. The couple originally planned to marry on Tuesday (World AIDS Day) in an attempt to help raise awareness about the issue, as both are HIV positive.
A bill that would legalize equal marriage was introduced to Congress in October, but has stalled without a vote since. Currently only seven countries in the world allow equal marriage: Canada, Spain, South African, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands and Belgium.

The Kill Bill

Uganda is likely to pass a bill criminalizing homosexuality. The bill is a growing campaign against LGBT citizens in Uganda. Critics claim the aim is to divert attention from corruption and other political issues ahead of the 2011 national vote. The author of the bill, David Bahati—a member of the religious group “The Family”--claims the bill, “promotes family values” (or teaches open discrimination, in my opinion). The bill is expected to pass and if passed will proscribe the death penalty for “serial offenders.” Equality NC is encouraging individuals to contact American members of “The Family,” asking them to speak out against the bill.

A prominent member of the Ugandian Anglican church, Canon Gideon Byamugisha, has denounced the bill, saying that it would lead to “state-sponsored genocide.”

O.K. folks, I’m off to start my long and drawn out preparation of studying for my finals. I can see many cups of coffee and sleepless nights in my immediate future.
Have a Great Weekend!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The South Will Rise Again (In A Positive, Inclusive Way, That Is ...)!

It's easy to get caught up in some of the major LGBT news events that happen in other parts of the country (e.g., the gain - and then loss - of marriage equality in California and Maine), but we shouldn't lose sight of the incremental but significant victories that are occurring here in the South.

Our neighbors and fellow citizens believe in fairness, and the more open and visible LGBT folks become, the more progress we'll make in our neighborhoods and towns.

  • Georgia just elected the nation's first black lesbian legislator (an inclusive twofer!). Simone Bell, won a runoff election to represent Georgia State House District 58. For more than 20 years, she worked as an activist and advocate in Atlanta and across the South, tackling issues of workplace equality, access to affordable health care, fighting HIV/AIDS stigma and discrimination, safe schools for all children, youth empowerment, and women’s issues. She becomes the second openly LGBT member of the Georgia State House, joining Rep. Karla Drenner.
  • Atlanta voters elected the city’s first gay man, and first Asian-American, (again, a two-in-one step forward) to the city council. Alex Wan will represent District 6 after winning an election run-off. He is development director of Jerusalem House, Atlanta’s oldest and largest provider of permanent, supportive housing for homeless or low-income individuals and families living with HIV/AIDS.
  • Washington (not the original, historic one we have here in North Carolina, but instead that second one in D.C. that likes to hog the headlines) just had their city council vote in favor of marriage equality (in the first of two votes). This initial vote was almost unanimous with 11 against two voting to legalize same-sex marriage. And signs are positive for the next vote in a couple of weeks.

    (According to Our Families Count, D.C. has the largest percentage of same-sex couples in the nation, where 1.5 percent of all households comprise same-sex couples. This is more than double the documented percentage of any state.)
  • Just a couple of weeks ago, the Charleston, SC, City Council passed legislation that prohibits discrimination in matters of public accommodation and housing and includes protection for LGBT folks. Now, South Carolina is not a bastion of progressive, gay-positive liberalism. This is a huge victory for fairness and equality.
  • A few months ago, AAA South (the 4th largest AAA affiliate in the country, covering more than 4 million members in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Puerto Rico) said it recognized all spouses, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The policy now lets gay married couples receive spousal discounts under AAA's Associate Membership program. This happened after Equality Florida launched conversations with AAA after receiving calls from gay couples who had been denied family memberships.
Add all that to our amazing wins in North Carolina this year and you see a region that is moving closer to equality day by day.

Change doesn't occur instantly. Instead, it happens bit by bit, locally and regionally before it finally culminates in larger, national progress.

Fairness doesn't come when the majority votes on rights for the minority. Instead, it comes when the minority is seen as ordinary, when LGBT struggles are seen as the regular travails of all folks, not something different or other. It comes from knowing our neighbors, being in the local PTA, shopping at the farmer's market, going to the movies as an out LGBT family.

Change is slow, but it does come, and it's happening all around us. It may sound hard to believe, but for the bright future of equality, look to the South.